"Optimal Property Rights for Emerging Natural Resources: A Case Study on Owning Atmospheric Moisture"
University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform
Fall 2016, Vol. 50, No. 1, pp 47-105
Abstract: This Article critically examines the design of property rights for emerging natural resources—naturally occurring substances that humans have only recently come to be able to exploit viably—through a case study of how the fifty states allocate ownership in, and regulate the use of, atmospheric moisture, an issue that has emerged in the context of weather modification (particularly cloud seeding). Building on the surprising finding that legislative declarations of state ownership have not resulted in greater regulatory control or other substantial restrictions on private use, this Article highlights a dimension of property rights design that has yet to receive concerted scholarly attention: the relative ease of future transitions— transitions both in ownership and in control mechanisms. This Article explains how state property facilitates easier and more holistic transitions and argues that state property can be an optimal allocation of emerging natural resources, because uncertainty surrounding the viability of present uses of the resource suggests that property rights arrangements may need to be changed in the foreseeable future. More broadly, the case study reveals how state property—properly stripped of its undeserved associations with socialism—still has an important role to play in property rights literature. Click here to download the full article.